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NZXT Panzerbox Mid Tower Case Review

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lemonlime

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nzxt_panzerbox_logo.jpg


NZXT Panzerbox Mid Tower Case Review



Manufacturer Product Page: NZXT Panzerbox
Model Name: Panzerbox
TechWiki Info: NZXT Panzerbox - TechWiki
Price: Click here to compare prices
Warranty: 1 Year



We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: it’s an exciting time to be buying a PC enclosure. Enthusiast cases are becoming ever more feature packed, they cool better and many of them are able to deliver all of this improved goodness at lower prices. One look at the $60 NZXT Beta that we recently reviewed only proves our point and shows just how much you can get for your hard earned loonie these days.

Founded only five years ago back in 2004, NZXT is a relatively new player in the PC hardware market. Their product lineup consists of PC enclosures, input peripherals and power supplies, but enclosures seem to be their specialty. NZXT is a California based company, with manufacturing plants in both China and Taiwan.

Today we’ll be looking at a rather unique case with some rather unique dimensions; the NZXT Panzerbox. Named after the German “Panzer” tank used in world war two, the Panzerbox shares a similar wide tank-like stance and packs a lot of cooling power into a small space. Although the Panzerbox accepts full-size ATX motherboards, it is undeniably short, standing at a mere 17.9 inches tall. To put this into perspective, the Thermaltake Spedo stands at a towering 24 inches. Although the case appears thick and bears very striking resemblance to a tank, the case is actually not all that wide at only 9.6 inches from side to side. Tank-like appearance aside, the Panzerbox is actually constructed almost entirely out of alumunium; a very non-tank-like material. NZXT tells us that “Compared to similar products with high airflow and ATX expandability, the Panzerbox is almost 25% smaller and 50% lighter”.

In the cooling department, NZXT really hopes to pack a whole lot of CFM into a small package. Two oversize 190mm fans dominate the front and top of the Panzerbox, with a 120mm fan at the rear. NZXT markets the Panzerbox as providing a whopping 300CFM of combined air movement, for – as NZXT puts it - “the best airflow in its class”. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of oversize fans over the last while, but they are usually tuned for low RPM and low noise operation, unlike the Panzerbox. NZXT also tailors the Panzerbox to those interested in watercooling, with included support for internal radiators.

Although the Panzerbox has an aggressive name, and some aggressive cooling potential, it is actually part of NZXT’s “Classic Series” of cases. Most of these cases are very simple in appearance, with only subtle styling accents, much like the Panzerbox. Although this case is clearly tailored to enthusiasts with its cooling configuration and watercooling potential, it’s simple appearance means that it will be of interest to enthusiasts and just about anyone looking for something more interesting than a regular beige box. Priced at only around $129, the Panzerbox is aimed squarely at the value conscious market, who wants the most bang for the buck.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at NZXT’s Panzerbox.

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lemonlime

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories

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The Panzerbox ships in a relatively small box measuring 20x20x12 inches. It’s short and wide dimensions hint to the tank-like case within. The box is not overly colourful, but does provide a nice angled image of the Panzerbox as well as a list of features and specifications.

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With the box cracked open, we’re greeted with a decent amount of foam and spacing between the case and the walls of the box. The case itself is wrapped in plastic to keep dust out during transportation and warehousing.

As we have mentioned in previous case reviews, it is important to remember that online vendors almost never place an enclosure box within another box filled with protective packaging like they would with smaller items. What comes from the case manufacturer is what gets tossed around by the courier company.

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The Panzerbox ships with a pretty minimal set of accessories. Lots of thumb-screws are included for tool-free hard drive mounting, and all of the various other screws and standoffs are packed in individual labelled bags for ease of identification. Although this may not seem like anything too significant, it can be frustrating to figure out which screws are used for what purpose when they are just dumped into a common baggie.
NZXT also includes some mounting brackers for a single or dual 120mm watercooling radiator to be installed at the top of the case. We’ll be taking a closer look at the Panzerbox’s watercooling potential shortly.

NZXT also includes a printed manual with the Panzerbox. It’s not just a product overview or quick reference either, but none other than the full-fledged manual. The manual contains a fair amount of detail and should be sufficient for the majority of buers, but the images are small and not terribly easy to make out. The manual can also be found online in PDF format at the Panzerbox product page.
 
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lemonlime

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Exterior Impressions

Exterior Impressions

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Yep, it looks a bit like a tank. Once we got the Panzerbox out of its packaging, we were immediately surprised by the short and wide stature of the case. It’s simple black aluminum exterior gives it that classy appearance, while its semi-transparent mesh front provides a glimpse at the aggressive looking 190mm intake fan. There aren’t any flashy LEDs, or overly aggressive design characteristics. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but we think that NZXT did a good job with the simple aesthetics of the Panzerbox.

Even more surprising than its dimensions however is it’s weight. We couldn’t believe how light the Panzerbox was. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of lightweight aluminum cases over the years, but the Panzerbox really goes a step further. We’ll take a closer look at the internal construction of the Panzerbox in the “Interior Impressions” section, but we can say that NZXT’s selection of mesh panels and minimalistic interior components plays a huge role in it’s weight.

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From the side, we’re greeted with a relatively simple side panel. We’ll get more into it shortly, but a small vent is present on the panel to allow cool air to reach the PSU. There aren’t any window options available for the Panzerbox, so those wanting to see their hardware will have to get crafty and modify the side panel.

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From the rear, we’re greeted by a very unique layout. Although the Panzerbox is technically a bottom mounted PSU case, it quickly becomes evident that this is anything but your average PSU mounting location. The PSU sits in a vertical orientation directly beside the expansion slots, giving the case that extra wide appearance. There is also about 3 inches of extra space at the top of the case above the motherboard that was thoughtfully provided to allow for internal radiator installation. We’ll get more into this shortly.

We were also pleased to see that NZXT opted to keep the case 100% painted black; a popular feature becoming ever more common these days. In the past, enthusiasts would go to great lengths painting the inside of their cases to get that “dark” appearance, so its nice to know that the Panzerbox will be painted black throughout right out of the box.

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Toward the top of the rear, we see a pair of watercooling grommets and a pretty standard 120mm exhaust fan in the usual location. Due to the wide stature of the Panzerbox, NZXT could have taken the cooling setup a step farther and used an oversize 140mm fan. We’re confident that there would have been plenty of space for one in this location. On the flip side though, keeping the fan a standard 120x25mm size allows buyers to easily swap it out for a fan of their choice.

The watercooling grommets are a pretty standard size that should allow the use of 3/8” and 1/2“ ID tubing. We’d also like to make special mention of the very soft rubber compound used for the grommets. It should be very easy to pull tubing in and out of the grommet without popping it out of the case.

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Farther down, we see that NZXT includes vented expansion slot brackets. Keeping the rear of the case breathing, especially the expansion slot area is very important as toasty video cards do not always exhaust air directly out of the case very well. We’ll see how the Panzerbox is able to keep a pair of HD3850 cards cool in the “Cooling Performance” section.

The vented expansion brackets are also removable, which is ideal. There is nothing worse than having to deal with “punch-out” brackets that cannot be reused when swapping around expansion cards. The openings in the brackets are numerous and fairly large, so they should allow some hot air to escape around the video cards. This will be very important in the Panzerbox, as the large 190mm intake fan will be directing a lot of air to this area of the case.

When it comes to PSU mounting, there are mounting holes to allow two different orientations in the Panzerbox. This will be somewhat irellivant to PSUs with a rear exhaust fan, but for PSUs with a bottom mounted fan, it is quite an important consideration. We’ll get more into why this is critical in our “Cooling Performance” section, but mounting a PSU with its fan facing the expansion slots will cause it to draw in a lot of warm air. This is especially true when used in conjunction with high end or multiple video cards. If the PSU is mounting in the opposite orientation, the fan will face the vented opening on the side panel and will be allowed to draw in cool air from outside of the case. There are pros and cons to both mounting orientation that we’ll outline shortly, so stay tuned.
 
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lemonlime

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Exterior Impressions pg.2

Exterior Impressions pg.2

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Although the Panzerbox is constructed almost entirely out of aluminum – far from a tank-like material – most of the panels are very thin and lightweight. Especially thin is the mesh panelling running along the entire top and the lower half of the front of the case, which doubles as both a fan grille and the external structure of the case.
From a drive bay perspective, there are only three 5.25 inch external bays present, which should be plenty for the vast majority of buyers out there. Not all that many people install multiple optical drives these days, so we feel that three 5.25 inch bays should be plenty. We were somewhat surprised to see that NZXT does not include a 5.25 to 3.5 inch external bay adapter. Anyone interested in using either a floppy drive, card reader or the likes will have to purchase the adapter separately. Finding one shouldn’t be too difficult, but NZXT really should have included one.

A small NZXT plaque is one of the only subtle styling “accents” added to this “NZXT Classic Series” case.

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At the top of the Panzerbox, we find the essential audio connectors, a pair of USB headers and an eSATA port. Most modern motherboards include a rear eSATA connector on the board itself, and if so desired, a break-out expansion panel can also be used. But if you are one of the few that don’t have an eSATA connector on your board, the Panzerbox has got you covered. A Firewire port is not included on the front panel, but considering how few individuals actually need one, this is definitely a forgivable omission. The I/O panel itself is held on by only two small screws, so it can be easily removed if so desired for modding or other purposes.

As mentioned earlier, the entire top of case is constructed of thin aluminum mesh that doubles as a fan grille as well as panelling. This material is extremely lightweight, but very flimsy unfortunately. Buyers will have to be very careful not to dent or ding this mesh paneling as it flexes a great deal when pressure is put on it. The large 190mm exhaust fan is clearly visible through the mesh paneling and from a cooling perspective, a “breathing” top is a positive thing due to the rising effect – convection - of warm air.

One danger that may not be immediately apparent is the hazard of spilling something onto the top of the Panzerbox. The mesh top will freely allow liquid to penetrate into the case and potentially damage the system components, so buyers will have to be careful.

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A simple power and reset button are present at the top left of the case. Both buttons are fairly small and have a bit of a flimsy feel to them. You’ll also notice that there appears to be a small gap just to the right of the switches due to the solid panel being recessed too far at that point. The other side of the case does not have this gap, and it appears to be a minor manufacturing defect of sorts. This is never something we like to see in a case, but thankfully it’s not too noticeable.

Two LEDs – power and HDD activity – are present just below the two switches, but cannot be seen unless they are lit, which is a nice feature to keep the front of the case looking as simple as possible.

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There is really not much to see at the bottom of the Panzerbox. Since the PSU is mounted on its side, there is no need for lower ventilation openings. A large embossed “X” is present, along with some simple rubber feet.

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The Panzerbox side panels are both the same, and are constructed of fairly thin aluminum with a small vented opening in one corner. The panel is secured to the case using two simple thumb screws, and small metal latches protrude from the panel to secure it to the case’s rails. Unfortunately, these latches are pretty flimsy, and although the side panel is easy to remove, reattaching can be a bit of a pain.
 
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lemonlime

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions

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With the side panel removed, we’re greeted with a somewhat spacious interior. We were immediately surprised by the very simple interior; especially the hard drive mounting locations.

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The whole cage that houses the three 5.25 inch bays and two internal 3.5 inch bays is essentially one piece of welded aluminum. It is actually completely removable using small case screws, which was a nice feature in our eyes as someone may wish to remove this cage for modding purposes. You’ll also notice that small aluminum fins protrude from the cage. Unfortunately, these fins appear to be mainly on the 5.25 inch bays, which don’t need nearly as much cooling as the hard drives in the 3.5 inch bays below. This is mainly a cosmetic thing in our opinion.

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Toward the front of the case, we see a very simple hard drive cage and the massive 190mm intake fan. Unlike many modern cases with six, seven or more hard drive bays, NZXT opted to provide only four. To be perfectly honest, those with a half-dozen hard drives are few and far between and the vast majority of buyers will have only one or two at the most. With that said, we think that NZXT’s decision to keep the intake fan unobstructed and cut down on drive bays was a wise one. Two 3.5 inch internal drive bays can also be found just above the lower cage and both of these mounting locations will receive airflow from the front intake fan. The only disadvantage to the lower cage is that drives mounted here will block intake airflow to the expansion slot area of the motherboard to some degree.

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The top of the Panzerbox is dominated by yet another large 190mm oversize fan, rated for 150CFM. We’ll take a closer look at the Panzerbox’s watercooling potential shortly, but with over 3.5 inches of clearance between the top of the case and the motherboard, there is a healthy amount of spacing for “creative” cooling solutions.

The two watercooling grommets also allow tubing into this space above the motherboard. We should make special mention of the grommets, which are made of a very soft and flexible compound. Many cases use thick and heavy grommets that are difficult to manipulate, so we were pleased to see this.

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Toward the back of the case, we get an inside view of the Panzerbox’s most distinguishing feature; the PSU mounting location. As you can see, it is lined up perfectly with the expansion slots. We’ll get more into this feature in the “Installation” and “Cooling Performance” sections.

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A standard set of header leads can be found in the Panzerbox. The USB and audio leads are covered by black insulation, but the switch and LED headers are unfortunately a rainbow of colors. Given the nice painted black interior of the Panzerbox, it would have been nice to see sleeved or black insulated cables all around. This is a very minor gripe though, especially considering the lack of a side window on the Panzerbox.

One feature that we absolutely love, and wish that other case manufacturers would implement is the removable front panel leads. They simply connect to pin headers on a small PCB protruding at the top of the case. If you don’t care to use the eSATA connector or one of the other connectors, simply remove the cable! There is nothing worse than having to hide away unused header leads, so this is a very welcome feature.
 
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lemonlime

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Interior Impressions pg.2

Interior Impressions pg.2

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From the other side of the case, there really isn’t a whole lot to see. NZXT does not intend for the rear of the motherboard tray to be used for cable management, aside from a couple of notches along the side of the tray that may be handy for zip-ties.

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We were disappointed to see that one of the little brackets used to hold the motherboard tray securely in place actually snapped right off at the weld joint. Considering this was done simply by reinserting the tray, we can only assume that this was a manufacturer’s defect. The other bracket appeared to be securely in place. Thankfully, this bracket only stabilizes the tray and is not essential.

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One great – and increasingly rare – feature that the Panzerbox brings to the table is a removable motherboard tray. This a feature often desired by PC enthusiasts. Four thumb screws hold the tray in place, and it slides out on rails on simple rails. As you’ll see in the “Installation” section, the removable tray makes motherboard and video card installation a breeze.

Care must be taken when removing the tray, as it’s a little on the flimsy side unfortunately.

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The 190mm fan used in the Panzerbox is a much heavier-duty fan than what we’re used to seeing. Many oversize fans tend to be flimsy and lack overall structural strength, but this is definitely not the case with the 190mm fan included with the Panzerbox. The fan bears the marking “DF2003012SEHN”, which is a Sleeve Bearing model rated for 0.7 amps, or 8.4W at 12V. At 150CFM and 1100 RPM – a higher RPM than most oversize fans - this 190mm fan can certainly move a healthy amount of air. Both the intake and exhaust 190mm fans are identical.

The 120mm exhaust fan is also a sleeve bearing fan. Its model number is DF1202512SELN, and a quick google search reveals that this is a rebranded fan used in several Cooler Master cases as well. Rated for around 2W at 12V and somewhere around 45CFM, it’s a much more pedestrian fan than the behemoths in the front and top of the case. Because the fan is a simple 120x25mm model, buyers can swap it out for a different model if they’d like some stronger exhaust flow.

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Once we got the large 190mm exhaust fan out of the Panzerbox, we were greeted by a large mesh opening at the top of the case. NZXT includes a set of brackets that can be used to easily mount a 120mm or dual 120mm radiator into the Panzerbox. Simply remove the 190mm fan, screw the brackets to the radiator and then screw the radiator to the existing fan mounting holes. There are several different screw locations on the bracket to allow for some back to front adjustment of the radiator if necessary as well.

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Image Courtesy of NZXT​

Installing a dual 120mm radiator should be a piece of cake thanks to the included brackets. With over 3.5 inches of clearance between the top of the case and the motherboard, even thick radiators and potentially 38mm thick fans could be mounted in the Panzerbox.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation

Installation

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The PSU is usually the first component we install during case reviews, but we did things a little backwards with the Panzerbox. Instead, we started with the motherboard installation, which was a total breeze thanks to the removable motherboard tray. We had no issues whatsoever getting the board and video cards installed. Much like the good old Lian-Li PC-60 series cases from years ago, the Panzerbox allows a good portion of the system to be built outside of the case.

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Once the hardware was installed on the motherboard tray and the video cards were secured, the tray felt much sturdier and didn’t flex nearly as much.

The 120mm exhaust fan conveniently plugged into a standard 3-pin fan header on the motherboard. Buyers without spare motherboard headers can also utilize the built-in 4-pin molex connector on this fan.

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Reinserting the motherboard tray with the installed hardware was a non-event. It slid easily back into place and everything cleared the openings. It should be noted that not all system configurations will work well with the Panzerbox motherboard tray. The opening at the back of the case is not very large, and motherboards with varying socket locations may pose an issue. The very popular DFI LanParty NF4 series boards are a perfect example, with a mid-board socket location. Most boards with somewhat standard socket locations shouldn’t pose an issue.

All hope is not lost if a motherboard/heatsink combination fails to clear the rear opening though. The motherboard can still be installed with the tray fully inserted, just like a case without a removable tray.

As far as heatsink clearance through the tray opening is concerned, we measured a maximum of about 6.5 inches. Considering a Thermalright Ultra-Extreme measures in at about 6.3 inches, most tower heatsinks should clear the opening, but will definitely be close.

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NZXT makes installing a hard drive into the Panzerbox a snap. Simply insert, screw and mount. No fussy drive caddies, just good old fashioned thumb screws.

The only negative aspect of mounting a hard drive into the lower drive cage is that the drives are positioned in such a way that a good portion of the front intake fan is blocked. Although this will inevitably equate to excellent hard drive cooling, it will cause some degree of airflow restriction to the expansion slot area of the motherboard. Those interested in maximum video card cooling should mount their drives in the upper location.

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The second optional hard drive mounting location still receives some airflow from the large 190mm intake fan, but does not block airflow to the video cards like the lower location does. Unfortunately, from a cable management and convenience perspective, this location is not the greatest. The drive protrudes quite a bit into the case and makes accessing the 24-pin ATX connector a bit of a challenge.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation pg.2

Installation pg.2

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Optical drive installation in the Panzerbox is quite simple. Although it does not enjoy tool-free mounting with switches or latches like many enthusiast grade cases, the included thumb screws make installation very straight forward; simply line up the mounting holes and tighten away.

We did run into a minor snag with our Pioneer optical drive in the Panzerbox, unfortunately. Its a slightly older and longer model than some of the newer SATA drives. It protruded over the top right corner of the motherboard and actually blocked one of the memory latches. Although the Panzerbox is a very wide case, there is not a lot of front to back space, and clearance between the motherboard and the drive bays is sparse.

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There is unfortunately very little space behind the motherboard tray to hide away PSU leads and other connectors. We did find the little notches in the motherboard tray a convenient location to zip-tie the front header leads though.

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Once we had everything except the PSU installed, the case appeared nice and spacious.

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The spaciousness disappeared pretty quickly once we installed the PSU, however. The PSU mounts with little difficulty, but it’s odd location makes cable management a real challenge. We stuffed unused leads underneath the PSU and out of sight below the bottom video card, but we couldn’t help but feel that the case was awfully cluttered with PSU leads. Thankfully, our Antec Signature 650W PSU is modular, so unnecessary cables can be omitted. Bundling PSU leads together wherever possible with zip-ties also helps to keep things a little more under control.

The PSU location in the Panzerbox is definitely a con when it comes to cable management, but we’ll try to reserve judgement at this point as there are some cooling performance considerations in this design.

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Although the odd PSU mounting location posed some challenges, we were able to get the case wired up and ready to go without too much trouble.

Since this is undoubtedly one of the Panzerbox’s most distinguishing features, we’ll be testing the case with both a Corsair TX-750 PSU and our reference Antec Signature PSU. The Corsair PSU has a bottom mounted fan that should help to exhaust hot air from around the video cards, and the Antec Signature will intake air farther toward the front of the case due to its rear mounted fan. We’ll see just what kind of impact this difference will play in both GPU, CPU and PSU temperatures in the “Cooling Performance” section.
 
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lemonlime

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology

System Used:
Processor: AMD Phenom X3 8750 @ Default Frequency of 2.4Ghz (Vcore increased to 1.4V to increase thermal output)
Memory: Crucial Ballistix 2x 1GB PC2-8500 (Single sided models @ 2.0V and 5-5-5-15-2T timings)
Motherboard: ASUS M3A78-T (790GX/SB750 Chipset)
Video Cards: 2x ATI Radeon 3850s in Crossfire (Reference Design @ Default 668/828MHz)
Optical Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Seagate 80GB 7200RPM SATA
Heatsink: Noctua NH-C12P with NF-P12 1300RPM fan
Power Supply: Antec Signature Series 650W and Corsair TX750​

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  • All testing was conducted with an ambient temperature of 21°C and not permitted to deviate beyond +/- 0.5°C.
  • Full system load was achieved using a combination of Prime95 v25 and Furmark for 100% CPU and GPU load. Temperature readings were taken after about 30 minutes of full-load testing and stabilization of temperatures. Idle temperature readings were taken after about 30 minutes of inactivity at the Windows desktop.
  • AMD Cool’N’Quiet technology was disabled in the BIOS.
  • GPU fan speed was fixed at 75% using RivaTuner on both cards for testing to ensure that fan profiling does not throw off results. CPU fan speed was also fixed at 1300RPM.
  • CPU, Motherboard and HDD temperature readings were taken from Speedfan 4.37 as it provided the most realistic values compared to what is being reported by CoreTemp, AOD and PC Probe II with this particular board/CPU combination.
  • GPU Temperature readings were taken from each individual GPU core using RivaTuner.
  • PSU Exhaust temperature was measured using an external probe attached to the PSU exhaust fan grille.

To provide some comparison, we conducted testing in accordance with the above methodology on the recently reviewed Thermaltake Spedo, Antec P183, Cooler Master Storm Sniper, Storm Scout as well as a case-less configuration on a “High Speed Tech Station”. The fans were left in their default configurations unless otherwise specified, but the 120mm fan was disconnected from the Tech Station to show a truly ambient environment where only the CPU fan, PSU fan and GPU fans are providing cooling to the system.

As you’ll see shortly, we conducted several tests with both an Antec Signature 650W PSU and a Corsair TX750 PSU. This was done to test the impact of using a PSU with a bottom mounted fan that intakes warm air from around the video cards as well as one that intakes cooler air from toward the front of the case.
 
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